March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

  • Title: March: Book One
  • Author: John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
  • Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
  • Year Published: 2013
  • ISBN: 1603093001
  • List Price: $14.95 (paperback)
  • Page Count: 128
  • Age Range: 12+
  • Genre: historical nonfiction/autobiography
  • Award(s): YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens;  Coretta Scott King Book Award Author Honor

Author information: John Lewis is a United States Congressman, representing Georgia’s fifth district since 1986. He has written his biography for adults, but March is his first title for a younger audience and the first in the graphic novel format. His website focuses primarily on his government work, with sections of the site devoted to legislation he has and continues to work on, his congressional district, contact information, resources, and information about professional and internship opportunities. ComicsAlliance interviewed Lewis and co-author/artist Andrew Aydin about the book. Lewis says that Aydin was the one who convinced him to do a graphic novel retelling of his biography, and he’s glad that he did it because he feels it brings his story to life and makes it more present and dynamic.

Reviews: Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, and Kirkus all gave this title starred reviews. They all agree that this is a powerfully told tale about our nation’s history, and that the graphic novel format helps bring John Lewis’ life story alive to a new generation. The artwork gives the book a “visual, visceral punch” (Library Journal). Former President Bill Clinton also reviewed this title, and said, “Congressman John Lewis has been a resounding moral voice in the quest for equality for more than 50 years, and I’m so pleased that he is sharing his memories of the Civil Rights Movement with America’s young leaders. In March, he brings a whole new generation with him across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, from a past of clenched fists into a future of outstretched hands.”

Readers annotation: John Lewis has lived a remarkable life, from a chicken farm to the United States House of Representatives. And he has changed the course of our nation’s history.

Summary: John Lewis is well known as a key figure in the civil rights movement as well as a current United States Congressman, and this book tells the story of his life and his fight for justice and equal rights. The first in a three part series, this book covers Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama and his experiences raising chickens on his family’s farm. In high school he became very serious about his studies and his desire to make a difference, and after a meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr. he decided he wanted to fight to be accepted at a non-integrated university. His family was wary of this and would not give their permission, but Lewis found other ways to get involved in the civil rights movement. He was involved in the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins, a movement dedicated to non-violent social change. This first book is set against a modern backdrop; Lewis is talking to a mother and her children about his life right before he attends the inauguration of the first black president, Barack Obama.

Evaluation: This is a very powerful book. The use of the graphic novel format makes John Lewis’ story immediate and urgent in a way that a traditional retelling would not, and the medium also allows a younger audience to connect with Lewis and the civil rights movement in a new way. The story of Lewis’ youth is framed against his life as a U.S. Congressman about to attend Barack Obama’s inauguration, and this conceit works beautifully on many levels–it shows how far the United States as a nation has come and how far it still has to go, and it makes explicit the fact that Lewis is telling this story to a new generation who may not understand what the social and political climate was like in the 1950s and 60s. Lewis is a supremely likable protagonist, both in his modern Congressman iteration as well as when he is a naive young boy learning about racism and segregation for the first time. The story that he tells about how he joins the non-violence movement and his experience with the lunch counter sit-ins is better than any fiction retellings of these events and reminds readers that this is a real thing that happened only a few decades ago. This first installment is bound to intrigue readers and make them eager for the forthcoming books, and it brings new life to a crucial period in United States history.

Rating and appeal factors:

  • Quality: 5/5 The artwork is beautiful and visceral, Lewis is a compelling protagonist, and the story is riveting.
  • Popularity4/5  As reluctant as kids and teenagers often are when it comes to reading nonfiction, the graphic novel format of this title will curb many doubts and cause readers who don’t usually read nonfiction to give this title a try. Those who read it won’t be disappointed, and will eagerly await the next installments of this series.
  • Appeal factors: historical nonfiction, Civil Rights, John Lewis, graphic novels.

Read-alikes: 

  1.  Readers who are interested in exploring another graphic novel set in the Civil Rights era should check out Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse. This title looks at segregation and civil rights as well as homophobia during the 1960s, and does a good job representing the prejudices that racial and sexual minorities faced during this time.
  2. Both John Lewis and Andrew Aydin mention that Art Spiegelman’s Maus was a heavy influence on their work, and it would be a good recommendation for readers who liked March‘s nonfiction and autobiographical subject presented in graphic novel form. Like March, Maus shifts between events that happened in the past and frames them as a story told in the present, and both titles show the cruelty of humankind as well as its resilient spirit.

Book talk ideas: I would stress the fact that this a true story written by a key player in civil rights movement, who is currently a United States Congressman. It would be useful to show a portion of the artwork (maybe a page or two from the sit-ins or the preparation the protesters did for the sit-ins) to give potential readers an idea of what the artwork looks like and the visceral experience that reading this story as a graphic novel allows. It may also be interesting to ask the audience how many of them have even heard of John Lewis, to see how familiar they are with the subject.

Discussion questions/ideas:

  1. Why did the key players of the civil rights movement stress non-violence? What do you think this accomplished?
  2. John Lewis’ family didn’t want him to try to integrate a university. Do you agree with their decision? Why or why not?
  3. How does using the graphic novel form enhance the telling of Lewis’ story?

Reason for reading: I did my topical presentation about graphic novels. I love the format, and I think it provides a perfect medium to tell emotionally intense nonfiction stories (like Maus, Persepolis, Pyongyang, etc.) because it makes the narrative very immediate and visceral. This title wasn’t on my radar until I did my presentation and saw it on the YALSA Great Graphic Novels list, and that, coupled with the response to discussing the title during the actual presentation, convinced me that it was something I needed to read immediately. 

Additional relevant information: The ComicsAlliance interview with Lewis and Aydin is wonderful, and would be a great tool for teachers or librarians who plan to feature this title in programming or the classroom. In the interview, they talk about collaborating on the book, how it came to be, and also talk about specific scenes, such as the one where Lewis and his friends prepare each other for the abuse they might face during the course of the movement. This gives great insight into some of the artistic and creative decisions that were made with the book. The interview also discusses the decision to frame this book as a story told on Inauguration Day, which both writers felt was important because “generations from now people will forget what that meant. They’ll be raised not remembering what it was like before we had our first black president. So hopefully this will in some way not just help people look forward, but help those in the future be able to look backward, and remember where we were then and how long that took, how much that took, and what the opportunities we have today mean and they open up for all of us.”

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